Good food, great art come together at this gallery-café in Saudi Arabia’s Alkhobar

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The Pentagon and Hexagon chairs are Fantastic’s signature design. (Photos supplied)
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A cross between a muffin, a pancake and a soufflé, this dessert is delicious.
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Breaded chicken breast with marinara sauce.
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A large painting of the legendary Lebanese singer Fairuz by Wijdan Al Jahwari takes center stage in the café.
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The 'Tolerance Chair' is inspired by the work of renowned artist Jaume Plensa.
Updated 13 January 2018
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Good food, great art come together at this gallery-café in Saudi Arabia’s Alkhobar

DAMMAM: The finer things in life — art and epicurean dining — come together in Fantastic, an art gallery-café combo in Saudi Arabia’s Alkhobar.
Fantastic is a new concept from young, enterprising Saudis, Ahmed Al-Ghunaim, Mohammed Al-Rasheed and artist Rawan Al-Dulaijan.
As you walk into the gallery, you are welcomed by asymmetrical light fixtures playing off artwork displayed on wall-to-ceiling shelves.
Immediately, a silhouette of the Saudi king in his majestic thawb, bisht and ghutra, fashioned out of Arabic letters, catches the eye.
“Our national dress is a source of pride and what better way to showcase our pride than through our art,” Al-Ghunaim explained.
He pointed out the hexagon and pentagon chairs — Fantastic’s signature design. Using elements including stainless steel, calligraphy, graphics, wood, natural leather and high-end fabric, Fantastic’s furniture is designed to make us rethink the way we look at ordinary things.
Upstairs, you can find some of the gallery’s bigger pieces, including a console table constructed from copper, glass and wood.
Al-Ghunaim pointed out a chair inspired by the Dubai Metro — a digital image of the UAE city’s transport system makes up the back of the chair, which has black arches for armrests.
The “Tolerance Chair,” meanwhile — inspired by the work of renowned Spanish artist Jaume Plensa — incorporates words from various languages to emphasize that diversity inspires us to live together in harmony. “Languages can be a common medium that bridge cultures and differences,” Al-Ghunaim said.
The gallery is currently displaying paintings by young artist Wijdan Al-Jahwary, who uses saffron and coffee powders to paint portraits. His large, distinctive portrait of the legendary Lebanese singer Fayrouz takes center stage at the café and has visitors posing for a coveted selfie.
The café retains Fantastic’s aesthetic — geometric planters and light fixtures with golden accents, calligraphy-imprinted chairs and lightweight marble and wood cutlery. Each piece of furniture or décor is available for purchase and can be customized to individual preferences — for example, a planter can be converted to a table if a customer desires, Al-Ghunaim explained.
Epicurean dining
Fantastic’s menu is innovative and indulgent. For starters, we tried the Fushi salad — a platter of toasted bread and feta cheese on a bed of lolla rossa lettuce, cherry tomatoes, beetroot, pine nuts and pistachios.
All of the ingredients for the salads are sourced locally, Al-Ghunaim said.
A favorite with regulars is the baked chicken kunaffa — marinated chicken wrapped in kunaffa dough and served with a sticky plum sauce.
For our main courses, the fresh shrimp and penne pasta tossed in a creamy saffron sauce hit the right spot.
Mom’s Chicken Parmigiana — breaded chicken breast with marinara sauce — and the Taouk pizza — pizza with a special mix of BBQ and tahini sauce rolled up and served taouk style — are innovative takes on home-made dishes.
“We aspire to provide food that cannot be found elsewhere.” Al-Ghunaim said.
For dessert, we tried the Lotus Volcano. An explosion of textures and flavors, it is a cross between a muffin, a pancake and a soufflé, soaked in Lotus biscoff spread and salted caramel sauce.
Another best-seller is classic waffles served with Swiss chocolate. What makes these special is the distinctive crunch that you can hear right from the first bite.
We ended the meal with a rose latte, its milky smoothness perfectly complemented the fragrant and nutty flavor of Turkish rose buds.
Nurturing a community of artists
The inspiration for Fantastic came from Saudi Design Week in 2015. Al-Ghunaim attended, but saw that Saudi talent was seriously under-represented.
“I established Fantastic with the concept of promoting young artists; to give them more visibility, without them having to incur the high expenses associated with displaying work in art galleries or art shows,” he explained.
“On display is artwork that people don’t often get to see. These are not mainstream, popular or established artists. On the contrary, they are young, talented, visionary artists who need exposure in their early days.”
Al-Ghunaim said he is inspired by the talent and collaborative art community in Kuwait and Dubai and hopes his gallery-café can provide the impetus to build something similar in Al-Khobar.
“Fantastic wants to provide a platform for artists in and around Saudi Arabia, and serve as a collaborative and encouraging space for young talent,” he said.


Gaming addiction classified as mental health disorder by WHO

Updated 18 June 2018
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Gaming addiction classified as mental health disorder by WHO

  • Addiction to video games has been recognized by World Health Organization as a mental health disorder
  • The International Classification of Diseases now covers 55,000 injuries, diseases and causes of death

GENEVA: Obsessive video gamers know how to anticipate dangers in virtual worlds. The World Health Organization says they now should be on guard for a danger in the real world: spending too much time playing.
In its latest revision to a disease classification manual, the UN health agency said Monday that compulsively playing video games now qualifies as a mental health condition. The statement confirmed the fears of some parents but led critics to warn that it may risk stigmatizing too many young video players.
WHO said classifying “gaming disorder” as a separate addiction will help governments, families and health care workers be more vigilant and prepared to identify the risks. The agency and other experts were quick to note that cases of the condition are still very rare, with no more than up to 3 percent of all gamers believed to be affected.
Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO’s department for mental health and substance abuse, said the agency accepted the proposal that gaming disorder should be listed as a new problem based on scientific evidence, in addition to “the need and the demand for treatment in many parts of the world.”
Dr. Joan Harvey, a spokeswoman for the British Psychological Society, warned that the new designation might cause unnecessary concern among parents.
“People need to understand this doesn’t mean every child who spends hours in their room playing games is an addict, otherwise medics are going to be flooded with requests for help,” she said.
Others welcomed WHO’s new classification, saying it was critical to identify people hooked on video games quickly because they are usually teenagers or young adults who don’t seek help themselves.
“We come across parents who are distraught, not only because they’re seeing their child drop out of school, but because they’re seeing an entire family structure fall apart,” said Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a spokeswoman for behavioral addictions at Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists. She was not connected to WHO’s decision.
Bowden-Jones said gaming addictions were usually best treated with psychological therapies but that some medicines might also work.
The American Psychiatric Association has not yet deemed gaming disorder to be a new mental health problem. In a 2013 statement, the association said it’s “a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be considered for inclusion” in its own diagnostic manual.
The group noted that much of the scientific literature about compulsive gamers is based on evidence from young men in Asia.
“The studies suggest that when these individuals are engrossed in Internet games, certain pathways in their brains are triggered in the same direct and intense way that a drug addict’s brain is affected by a particular substance,” the association said in that statement. “The gaming prompts a neurological response that influences feelings of pleasure and reward, and the result, in the extreme, is manifested as addictive behavior.”
Dr. Mark Griffiths, who has been researching the concept of video gaming disorder for 30 years, said the new classification would help legitimize the problem and strengthen treatment strategies.
“Video gaming is like a non-financial kind of gambling from a psychological point of view,” said Griffiths, a distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “Gamblers use money as a way of keeping score whereas gamers use points.”
He guessed that the percentage of video game players with a compulsive problem was likely to be extremely small — much less than 1 percent — and that many such people would likely have other underlying problems, like depression, bipolar disorder or autism.
WHO’s Saxena, however, estimated that 2 to 3 percent of gamers might be affected.
Griffiths said playing video games, for the vast majority of people, is more about entertainment and novelty, citing the overwhelming popularity of games like “Pokemon Go.”
“You have these short, obsessive bursts and yes, people are playing a lot, but it’s not an addiction,” he said.
Saxena said parents and friends of video game enthusiasts should still be mindful of a potentially harmful problem.
“Be on the lookout,” he said, noting that concerns should be raised if the gaming habit appears to be taking over.
“If (video games) are interfering with the expected functions of the person — whether it is studies, whether it’s socialization, whether it’s work — then you need to be cautious and perhaps seek help,” he said.